St Croix River Road Ramblings

Welcome to River Road Ramblings.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Autumnal Eco Knocks

Autumn colors are coming fast.  Took a walk to the pond on the Farm and enjoyed the quiet, only broken by the distant sound of combines in the soybean fields.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

2016 River Road Hwy 87 Ramble 9/24/2016

 2016 River Road Ramble 
 2016 marks the 11th Annual River Road - Hwy 87 Ramble.   The person who makes it all work is Joan Swanson, one of the members of the Sterling Eureka and Laketown Historical Society (SELHS) which sponsors it.  
   This year we have about 30 people who have enrolled officially to have stops, sales, open houses, events, etc., along the 30 mile loop tour between Grantsburg and St Croix Falls.  
   Eleven years ago, I was writing a weekly newspaper column, entitled River Road Ramblings.  The September fall color was spectacular and early that year, and I invited my readers to take a Ramble up the River Road.  
   Joan, another SEL member, Marcie and others in SELHS  thought it would be a good excuse for a celebration and enlisted local businesses, churches, and folks along the road to invite folks in for a yard sale, farmers market, craft sale, or just something interesting to look at.  
   Eleven years later, we are still doing it, and each year we get a little more participation, a few more folks touring the area, and it is a tradition now that folks look forward to.  
  This year's information is on Facebook at St Croix River Road Ramble -Facebook  as well as at Ramble 2016 
   Our own stop, the Hanson Farm, is missing pumpkins and apples this year with crop failures, however we will have maple syrup (excellent year) and lots of good squash as well as a garage sale.  The apple crop, while there are many apples, has many visual defects that really make the apples unsalable. A late freeze, huge amount of rain, and some hail did its work on the apples.  So we are giving them away free if folks want to pick them.  They were sprayed regularly with Sevin so aren't wormy (or at least are mostly worm free), but as I don't spray a fungicide, wet years leave the cosmetics of an apple quite visually unappealing.  Peel off the skin and under you have the beautiful white apple excellent for eating, pieing, crisping, saucing, and otherwise enjoying.  At least 1/2 of the 25 trees got caught by the freeze and didn't bare this year. 
   I have to put up my signs that say farm visitations are at your own risk.  Wisconsin passed a law that puts the risk on the visitor rather than the farmer for agro-tourism.  The sign says:

 That doesn't totally absolve the farmer from having obviously unsafe places accessible on the farm, so I will need to block off the old silo pit -- 6 feet down growing lushly with ferns.  As a kid, I spent much time tossing silage down from the silo above ground, and by spring as the silo emptied, tossing it up from the pit with a ladder inside to get out again.   
  Fall color is coming; the harvest is close by with soybeans yellow, corn brown, and garden vines dying down.  
   My posting here is rare, but every day I post photos from the farm on Facebook.  You can see them at 
On the Farm via Facebook    You do need to signup for a free account there, but if you use the internet and want to keep up with your kids and grandchildren, social media is pretty much needed nowadays.  
   Facebook has been mostly taken over by the boomers as the younger folks find their own niches in twitter, snapchat, instagram, etc.  The difference is partially an sort of continuous feed of information versus most of us on Facebook, a daily check on things. 
  I plan to spend the Ramble day at the Cushing Museum, visiting with the cultural elite who choose history over food and sales (or maybe combine the two).  

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Polk County WI Fair 2016

The 2016 Polk County Fair is history as we finish cleaning up the historic 1858 Red School house for another year.  It is the historical stop in the fair grounds, a one-room rural school, furnished like it was when it closed in 1958 after 100 years of students learning reading, 'riting and 'rithmetic. 
   Margo and I entered lots of apples, baked goods, photos, butter, stories and other items and had a good winning ratio getting 21 ribbons on 30 entries.  Of course, the competition is stiff in some categories and less so in others.  
   Some photos from the school house at the fair this year. 

Friday, July 15, 2016

Moving Forward

   Gardening here on the Hanson farm got a boost with nearly 4 inches of rain the past week, one of them being a 3 inch soaker.  The strawberry crop was poor, the raspberry crop good, the blueberries a few handfulls from 4 plants, and the apples set on only some trees.  The late spring freeze seems to have hindered things this year.
Our garden had raspberries and blueberries for Margo's 4th of July cake -- from scratch

    We have a pumpkin garden at the lake cabin, a squash garden on the farm, the fruit farm on the farm with some lettuce, beans, peas, etc., and a water melon farm on the sand land along the River Road.  They seem to be doing pretty good, setting fruit and so far we have kept the weeds in check.
The squash garden has small squash on the vines.  Had to ring it with an electric fence as the deer ate the blossoms.

    Scott and I put a new porch roof on the cabin.  Back in 1975 we built it and a year later added a porch with a roof made of plastic panels. Forty years later, it had sort of deteriorated from sun, wind, and branches dropping on it.  We tore off the old panels and supporting boards and then completely replaced the roof, this time with steel panels screwed to new treated wood rafters and cross boards.

    Barring wind and tree falls, it should last 40 years too.
   Monday afternoons each week for the past several years, I have volunteered at the Luck Museum Ravenholt Family History Research Center to help folks find their family roots.  We have free drop-in help, and also get email requests through our website and local museums.  I spend about 8 hours per week in doing computer searches, local record lookups and other genealogical research as a volunteer.  An interesting detective job that lets me use some of my computer experience and knowledge of local history.

     A request from last week via an email:  "My great grandfather lived near Luck for a time in the 1920s.  Can you find where he lived and how long he was here?"  Usually we get a name, a birth date or death date, and maybe some additional family names.  This time it was that Mr. Iver Iverson, wife Anna and 10 children.  We found them in the 1920 census on, then in the 1924 platbook in the museum, and then Anna and 5 of her children's obituaries in the Luck Enterprise newspaper digital obits file at the museum.  Sending all of that to the California requester, we got a thankyou that said -- the information in the obituaries gave the information they wanted, and that if they got here on a trip, they would like to see the farm.  In the meantime we will photograph it for her.

   It has been 4 years since Margo found out she had breast cancer that had spread to some lymph nodes.  She had a checkup this week, -- all clear and for the future, she can go back to normal yearly mammograms and doctor visits.  Her initial prognosis was 85% likely to be alive in 5 years, and after a year of harsh treatments, she is doing fine cancerwise.  She has to have some heart checks next time as they have found out that radiation treatments to the chest can damage the heart.  No symptoms, but an echo-cardiogram to see.

 Her back surgeries of 2 years ago are mostly healed.  They left her much weaker than before in leg strength and balance.  Most of the sharp pain is gone, but still some chronic pain.  She has been going to physical therapy weekly and will soon finish with that.  She walks now on even surfaces without a cane, but feels safer with one outside. The surgeries were necessary to stop some very serious damage happening in her spine, so that really wasn't a choice.  Adjusting to lowered physical abilities has been tough, but it helps that she has had continued progress and is likely to continue to improve.  She is able to do some of the things she likes to do, and along with many ibuprofen, aspirin and tylenol, can cope with the pain.  Getting older is not always pleasant, but after 4 years, we are eagerly planning a trip south again in January!

An addition to the garage -- a roof for a tractor or car

The 100 year old barn needs paint, but even more a new roof

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Stop Bugging me!

  If you want to see a daily update from the Farm and the Hanson's, follow us on Facebook.  You need to become a Facebook member, but that is free.

Summer is here with its pleasant weather, sunny skies and intractable bugs.  This year, on the farm, we are cursed with deer flies.  Normally these biting buzzing bugs stay in the woods, but as the wet spring left stagnant    pools in the big swamps where the larvae grow, both the deer flies and mosquitoes attack during the whole day long.  Only when the wind blows is there respite. A calm day requires thick pants, a thick sweat shirt, big hat and gloves, and they they get you on the neck, face and ears.  
   One bite on my knuckles left my hand tinglingly numb for a half hour.  They land, slice you open, inject their anti-clotting poison and start draining the blood.  Must be difficult for the deer, who although their bodies are safe under the thick hair coat, are attacked on their heads.  Watched one, its ears constantly flicking, head surrounded by these miserable excuses for life.  The male pollinates flowers, but the female needs a blood meal to lay fertile eggs, just like the female mosquito. 
   The month of June went by rapidly.  Our three 4 gardens are doing well, although the pests (bear, deer, raccoon, etc) are taking their share.  The apple trees set some apples, but not very many -- bloomed during a hard freeze this spring.  The strawberry patch was mostly a bust, with it being picked by a bear (who got through the big fence) and a family of raccoon, a wood chuck, and half a dozen chipmunks.  The patch needs to be renovated, as 3 years in one spot is really too many. 
  However, the raspberries are just starting and doing well enough so even with the robins, bluebirds, etc, eating full time, we get some too.  Picking raspberries is more pleasant as you don't have to be bent over all the time.  
  The pumpkin garden at the cabin is just starting to run vines as is the watermelon garden on the River Road sand land.  The squash garden here on the farm is blooming nicely and the fines crowded so I can't till it anymore.  
  Had to enclose the blueberry plants in a covered bird proof fence as they were being eaten before they even turned a hint of blue.  A family of 7 young raccoon with parents were caught coming out from under the fruit garden fence.  So I dug out one of Dad's old electric fencers and put a low and high wire around the whole garden.  This stopped the coon, a young bear, the deer, and maybe the woodchuck.  I had extended the fruit garden and my extension had some snow fence (plastic) and some of the 6 foot woven wire fence, so wasn't quite varmint proof.  Bought another 50 foot roll of woven fence - 6-ft tall to finish the job. 
   The big job in June was to remove all of the farm machinery and scrap metal from behind the barn -- Dad's old machinery lot.  Two wrecked cars, two parts balers, two corn pickers, 3 manure spreaders, a silo filler, and a few ton of miscellaneous farm machinery, long past its useful age. 
  "When I came to the farm in 1941, there was not a single piece of scrap metal here!" complained Dad.  He made up for it by buying machinery, and when it was no longer functional, parking it in the lot behind the barn.  He was a very hand person, and the scrap metal was all potential to build or repair other farm machinery. As he got old, and got rid of his cattle, the machinery lot grew up to grass, weeds and mostly box elder trees, a mess that one didn't dare drive through for fear of hitting an old plow or dump rake tine.  As I am not a welder, or not much into machinery building, and not farming nor planning to, I had long wanted to get this cleaned out and recover it for other use.  
   As the job required a loader and big trailer, I bargained with neighbor Shane and his son to take the machinery in return for the scrap metal value.  They spent a week and hauled 10 loads out and left it almost totally bare of metal.    Scrap metal is abysmally low price right now compared to a few years ago, so I doubt Shane did more than recover his costs, but he did an excellent job, cutting machinery out that had grown deeply into box elder trees, and scraping it down to where I could see the ground again. 
   In the lower barnyard, back in the days when it was tightly pastured and not a machinery graveyard, I recall the three rock foundations there.  "This was the old log barn," said Dad pointing to a rectangle of rocks maybe 16x30, "this the old log house" pointing to a nearby raised square of 20x20, and "this is the silo foundation.  It still had a little of the original pit when I came here," pointing to a rock and concrete ring of about 12 feet in diameter.  Sometime in the 1880s Ole Nelson bought the farm from Charles Howe and at least according to his son Emil, cleared most of the land, built the log buildings and turned it into a farm before his son John lost it in the Great Depression. 
  The current buildings are about 100 years old (the house built in 1917 and the barn about that time too).  The haymow floor joists are all logs from the original barn and house.  
  Shane moved some of the foundation rocks out, but then realized there were too many, so some of it still remains.  The barnyard now is mostly clear of metal, and I am still working on it.  Many of the box elders are gone, but still many left.  There are three large piles of logs, tires, and rocks along the south edge of the lot.  They need to dry for a season, and maybe next winter with snow on the ground and a north wind away from the buildings, I will try to burn what I can.  Whomever gets the farm from me will likely repeat Dad's disgust "there wasn't a scrap of metal on the whole farm.."

Saturday, June 25, 2016

78th Annual Sterling Settler's Picnic

Back in the late 1930s, the folks who had lived in West Sterling, along the St Croix River, got together for a reunion picnic at the junction of Trade River and Cowan Creek -- at the Boy Scout camp just up from the bridge.
  They enjoyed themselves so much, that now 78 years later, folks from the area still gather to have a summer picnic and talk about the old days.  Nowadays it is at the Cushing Community Center in Cushing, WI,   This year it is Sunday, June 26th noon potluck.
  Having gone to picnics since I was a kid, and helped with them since then, I sort of fall into assuming that I should go each year.  And Margo and I do.  Mom was the secretary (or maybe treasurer) for many years, and she and dad always got us to help prepare the picnic, back in the days when preparing included mowing the poison ivy, cutting the brush around the campsite, helping the Christenson's setup the wooden benches and gathering firewood to make a wash boiler full of coffee.
   Nowadays it is easier, as we have facilities that are ready to go with a little rearrangement.  The outdoor picnics were great, and we often had 100 or more folks come.  Nowadays we are happy to keep the picnic running, even if the group is smaller.  One of those traditions that attempt to add a little glue to a community--a chance to visit with your neighbors and to honor the older folks in our community with an award just for being 80 years old or better and for being married for 50 years or more.
  Sometimes it seems that I get too wrapped up in helping put on the picnic (and other events sponsored by our local history societies) so I am more worried that everything goes smoothly than I am able to enjoy the event.  Feeling responsible for things is a fault I have, because even if I didn't show up, the picnic would go on fine, people would still enjoy themselves, and the few touches I add would not be missed.  When I get old, I am going to try to do better at enjoying things and being more irresponsible.  I have a good start, as my responsibility has been declining as my memory of what it is I am supposed to do has faded.  I tell people that if you want me to do something on a particular day and time, send me an email the day before or morning of and you have a decent chance of seeing me there.
  Want to know what a 1960s Sterling Old Settler's Picnic was like?  Read a previous blog entry at this link;   1960 Sterling Picnic

Photos from the 2015 picnic can be seen at:  2015 Picnic photos

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Summer #70

June has arrived on the farm; the gardens are growing, the grass lush, the hot weather still welcome, some lettuce, spinach, rhubarb and the start of strawberries from the garden move us into summer again.

With Margo away visiting her relatives in West Bend, Scott and I tour into the 1958 bathroom and re-plumbed, fixtured, floored, walled etc.  We changed it with handicap accessibility in mind -- attempting to make the house ready for an older but familiar set of residents.   It is nice here, so getting things pre-arranged makes sense as we tumble into our 7th decade (at least I do this year).

Margo is still somewhat wobbly from the back surgeries and continues with physical therapy with the hope of regaining more strength and balance.  I am pretty normal and can actually still do a hard day's work--for me that means gardening or wood cutting or maple syruping.  I doubt I would stand up for a day's throwing hay bales around like Dad did in his 70s.

Fixing old buildings, cleaning out machinery and getting rid of 76 years of farming accumulation is progressing slowly, but steadily.  Doing it slowly is not too bad, as long as we keep making progress.  The next job is some reworking the lake cabin porch --roof and supporting poles need some replacement after 41 years.  We built it when Margo was pregnant with Scott, so we can remember the age easily.

I like to follow politics and over the years have changed from moderate Republican to moderate Democrat.  By the Bill Clinton years, it seemed as there no longer any room for moderateness in the Republican party--which in Minnesota was really a moderate group with folks like Arne Carlson and Rochester's Republican representative who was actually pro-choice.

Things have been pretty stable economically over the past 6 years, not booming, but most everyone who wants a job can find one, and in Minnesota, with its better economy, businesses are having difficulty hiring folks.  We in NW Wisconsin benefit greatly from the MN economy as if we want a good paying job and are willing to drive across the border, we can find one.

With graduation underway and graduation cards and parties I look back over my own life.  The very best thing I did for myself was to stay in school through college.  I had a math science degree and went back after that for a teaching degree.  I know, even now, that if I wanted a decent job, I could find one as a math science teacher.  I didn't stay at that, and went into computers, and even in that field I could go back if I wanted to.  Mostly the education opened the door for all sorts of opportunities with the degree, the key to the lock.

So I give the advice that was given to me by Dad which varied  from "get as much as education as you can stand" to "stay in school as long as you can stand it."  Back in the 50s and 60s, we still could get a decent union job and do the 35 years and out, but that seems mostly gone.  The attack by the right on unions set a race to the bottom for employers.  I remember when this all started -- an incessant flow of stories in the Reader's Digest attacking unions for corruption and practices (think Jimmy Hoffa).  It was true that some unions needed cleaning up, but folks like Reagan came in and intentionally broke unions (air controllers).

  With no collective power, employees are at the mercy of the employer.  My early working days were always union.  The plastic factory,  Stokely's canning company, my 2.5 years of military obligation served in a hospital (I refused to kill people and got assigned to be a nurse's aide in a county nursing home and mental institution instead -- there I helped start and was in charge of the union of 250 workers when I was 23), and then my teaching years.  We had a combined worker voice to approach management about working conditions, pay, benefits and problems.

Anyway, nowadays, my advice to new graduates:  you are on your own in the world of jobs and you are only as good as you prepare yourself--and that isn't physical preparation, but mental (at least if you want a decent paying job most places).  Life can be much easier if you earn enough money to make it so, and that requires self investment, which really means education.  So "stay in school longer than you can stand it" is my version of Dad's advice.

Of course, some of us really did like learning and thought teachers were not only the gateway to good jobs, but what was really important, learning how the world works.  Science and math were, I thought, the only real fields where what you do has the ability to actually improve people's lives for the better.  I don't mean that art or music or writing isn't good, but that what scientists do actually can keep people from illness, from starvation and solve physical problems we face.  When physical problems are at bay, we can enjoy the rest of what life offers.


Tuesday, May 3, 2016

A Fast Spring

With an excellent maple syrup season finished, gardening getting underway, and things going along smoothly, time to catch up a little here.
If you are a facebook user, then you can see a daily photo post of what is happening on the farm by checking my posts there.

Russell B Hanson Facebook Posts

We had planned to put out most of our 400 buckets this year for maple syrup season, but with the early warm weather in February and March, we ended up with only 100.  That was good as we had an excellent season making about 35 gallons of excellent quality syrup. An average year for 100 buckets would be 25 gallons.

This was the earliest ever (in my life) of the lake opening -- mid March.  Before that we had some end of March and normal is mid April.  Everything seemed to be ahead of schedule by several weeks including the end of maple season about the beginning of April.

This spring has been an attempt to do more cleaning on the farm, removing some of the old fences, repairing buildings, cleaning out and getting rid of some of the things only a working dairy farm would use.

Margo continues to improve, and is starting to walk around without a walker or cane.  Her back surgeries got rid of much of the pain, but left her weak and with balance troubles, so she goes to physical therapy weekly.  She is clear of cancer returning and gradually getting back to normal.

You can see a lot of photos on Facebook from maple syrup season.

We planted more apples, enlarged the gardens, and in general are still expanding our efforts on the farm.  No cattle yet!

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Maple sap collection -- Pulsed Vacuum Research

To Pulse or not to Pulse?  Does Pulsed Vacuum Improve Maple Sap Yields?

R. Burl Hanson, Research Scientist, Northwestern Wisconsin Maple Products Laboratory
Funding: Nevada Maple Products Association Inc.  

Maple syrup producers have gained greatly in efficiency, yield, and tree health over the past few hundred years by constantly improving the process.  We have moved from the wide bark slashes made by Native American to drilled holes of an inch diameter gradually down to the current 5/16 inch in an effort to do less damage to the tree.  

We have placed pipelines through the woods connecting trees together with gravity flow into centralized tanks gaining labor efficiency.  We have applied a constant vacuum to the pipelines to gain production of 20-30 percent over gravity feed.  We have learned to replace the tip of the spile each year to deter bacteria from entering the tree, and recently moved to check valve replaceable tips to prevent backflow—each step improving the yield of sap per tree hole.  We have experimented with different vacuum levels, pipeline sizes, and various and sundry other changes to improve our sap/cost ratio.  

We have adopted reverse osmosis sap filtering, ultraviolet sap sterilization, air infiltration evaporator boiling, pressure syrup filtering with diatomaceous earth and dozens of other innovations in the past 50 years as research guides our future.  

Many years ago, as a young man helping his father on our Wisconsin dairy farm, I too tried using a vacuum milker pump to increase sap yield.  We hooked directly to the barn vacuum pump and applied a continuous vacuum of about 15 lbs.   It was successful and we got higher yields on vacuum assisted taps and adopted vacuum pipeline decades ago.    

On the farm, vacuum pumps ran milking machines to automate milking cows.  The milking machines copied the pulsing suction of a calf drinking at the spigot. The machine pulsed the vacuum once per second to match the calf and a hand milker’s rate.  I wondered then if a pulsed vacuum would change the sap yield over a continuous vacuum.  Dad had no interest in letting me take his Surge milker to the woods much less hook it to a tree, so the thought remained idle until last year.   

Fifty years later, having retired from a career in scientific research, I was preparing for maple syrup season getting equipment stored in the old farm milkhouse, still as it was when Dad quit milking cows 30 years ago.  I noticed the Surge milking machines still on the rack near the bulk tank.  I remembered my curiosity about pulsed vacuum.    

Milking machines of the 20th century had a mechanical pulsator on them, two small pistons that slid back and forth actuated by the vacuum, pulsing the vacuum sent to the the actual cow milking part, four metal teat cups with flexible rubber “inflations” that did the squeezing with each pulse.   With equipment available and a background in scientific research to guide me, and funding available,  I could finally try to answer the question  “To pulse or not to pulse?”

I cleaned, oiled the pulsator, and tested the Surge milker—it worked fine.  I set it to 60 pulses per minute, the cow rate.  I brought it to a tree adjacent to the sugarshack where I could observe it while cooking syrup.  I removed the 4 teat cups and blocked off two of them (only wanted two for my test) and hooked the other two to plastic hoses going to freshly drilled 5/16 inch taps, 2 inches deep.  Of four taps, two would be pulsed and two would have continuous vacuum.  For two weeks I measured the output and sugar content of each pair of taps—one coming directly into the milker bucket and the other into a special tank.   After two weeks, I switched the pulsed and continuous vacuum taps so I could rule out tap hole variation.  

Results:    Statistical analysis shows with significance of P less than 0.001 that pulsing vacuum gives a 20.1-26.2 percent greater sap flow than continuous vaccum.  Whichever set of taps had pulsed vacuum gave at least 20% higher sap yield than continuous vacuum.  Sugar content was the same for all taps all periods.  
Discussion:  The mechanism underlying greater sap flow with pulsed vacuum is not intuitive.  Pulsing may provide the tree with a brief respite that continuous vacuum does not allow.  Trees are thought to have their own intrinsic pulse as they push sap from the roots to the leaves at least according to some biotreeologists.  It is possible that we are tapping into this synchronically with the tree’s own biorhythmic nature. 

 As pulsing is clearly a yield enhancer, we anticipate rapid and extensive adoption in 2012.  The only contraindication is that checkvalve wear was accelerated due to the 60 times a minute the ball rolled to open and close.  Additional testing showed a new checkvalve would last for 46 days average (46 +-5 Standard error 2.5), an average season.  

Future:  With additional research funding we hope to continue with efforts to understand what is happening.  We plan to do experiments varying the pulse rate from once per minute to 100 times per minute in steps of 10.  We have developed and patented a simplified pulsator (nicknamed Pulsing Mathilda) that is connected at the vacuum pump and pulses the whole pipeline at once. We have patented this method and are licensing it at 18 cents per tap hole with discounts for larger producers.  Call for direct sales or dealership opportunities.  Research contributions of signed blank checks are welcome.  

Reported April 1, 2011.  

Monday, March 14, 2016

2016 Maple Syrup Season Underway

Put out about 100 sap buckets last week and cooked out the first batch of syrup -- earlier than we have ever done in my memory.  With days in the 50Fs to 70F it was too warm for a good season, but that is changing this week with temps back to normal.